WASHINGTON Feb 20 With federal funding for U.S.
highways set to run dry within months, U.S. Transportation
Secretary Anthony Foxx urged Congress on Thursday to show "a
little political courage" and come up with long-term solution to
pay for roads.
The Highway Trust Fund, which relies on an
18.4-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline to pay for the federal share
of spending on roads, could run out of money "perhaps as soon as
August," Foxx said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce conference.
The tax hasn't been raised in two decades, and with
Americans driving less since 2007 and turning to more
fuel-efficient vehicles, the trust fund can't keep pace with the
country's road building and maintenance needs.
"Congress is going to have to show a little political
courage to face this problem," Foxx said.
He said the long-term health of the U.S. economy and its
global competitiveness depended on a robust infrastructure.
"It's a problem not just in Washington, it's a problem on
Main Street because literally, things will grind to a very slow
pace for infrastructure in our country at a time when we need to
be investing," Foxx told reporters after his speech.
In a report in 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers
said the country's infrastructure was in a woeful state from
lack of investment, with one in nine bridges structurally
deficient and 40 percent of major highways congested.
Foxx said more than $70 billion a year was needed to fix
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO labor
federation have proposed increasing the fuel tax, which raises
about $35 billion a year in revenue and includes a
24.4-cents-a-gallon levy on diesel, but there appears to be
little support in Congress for such a move.
President Barack Obama has called for using some of the
savings from proposed corporate tax reform to replenish the
highway fund, but it seems unlikely that a major tax overhaul
could pass Congress in an election year.
Foxx suggested the administration was open to other ways of
finding the revenue.
"We're interested in working with folks that want to get
something done," he said.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman
Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, has proposed doing away
with the gas tax and instead, raising revenue from a levy on oil
House Transportation Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, a
Pennsylvania Republican, has supported a tax based on the number
of miles driven, rather than fuel consumption.
Federal funds account for about 45 percent of state spending
on roads and bridges, and Foxx said concern that the trust fund
was running out of money had caused some projects to be put on
He said the administration may have to slow payments to
states as the fund becomes depleted.
"We don't want to go into emergency measures but that has
got to be on the table if we get close to a crisis," Foxx said.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Bernadette Baum)